The Problem of the “Lost Intelligentsia” and Its Solutions in the Lithuanian Press of the Late Nineteenth–Early Twentieth Century

  • Olga Mastianica-Stankevič
Keywords: Intelligentsia, professional composition, nineteenth century


Due to the social and national policy of the government in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the majority of the Lithuanian intelligentsia was forced to seek civil service not in ethnic Lithuania but rather in other governorates of the Russian Empire. Rimantas Vėbra, who studied the social structure of the Lithuanian intelligentsia of the nineteenth century, concluded that almost 60 per cent of people from Lithuania who had completed higher education worked outside the boundaries of the North-western Region. This article discusses the problem of the shortage of the intelligentsia differently from what has been discussed in previous studies before: not by identifying the problem of the “lost intelligentsia” and its roots, but by addressing the question of how much the Lithuanian intelligentsia itself tried to address the problem, why and what methods were proposed to overcome it. The main source of the study is the Lithuanian periodical press and works of fiction, which reflect the collective thinking of the intelligentsia deeper than letters or diaries, and, most importantly, show the reflection of ideas, the context of their dissemination, and allow at least a partial assessment of the discussions and impact of ideas. In the public discourse of the problems of the intelligentsia, the issue of the shortage of the Lithuanian intelligentsia was seen as a tragedy of the nation, primarily due to the inability of the intelligentsia to organize and mobilize the masses of society to work for the benefit of the nation. Fears about the employment of the intelligentsia outside ethnic Lithuania were periodically voiced in the illegal Lithuanian press at the end of the nineteenth century; however, the views on this problem did not differ significantly. A rather peculiar promotional campaign was conducted in the public discourse of that time, defined by its moralization, castigation, and the encouragement to stay in Lithuania. A Lithuanian intellectual who had left the country was seen primarily as someone who renounced his duties to society and was compared to a person without moral principles. In the early decades of the twentieth century, the consideration of the problem of the shortage of intelligentsia changed direction and a search for specific solutions to this problem began. On the one hand, the Lithuanian intelligentsia hurried to assess the changes, first of all in education and partly in the national policy of the Russian government. Therefore, the Lithuanian intelligentsia encouraged the public to establish private schools, hospitals, and associations of an economic nature. On the other hand, people became aware that it was impossible to prevent the loss of the intelligentsia under the existing conditions of employment in Lithuania. For this reason, the Lithuanian intelligentsia, especially its younger generation, sought means to strengthen the spiritual ties of the young people in higher education with their homeland, so that even if they chose to work in the inner governorates of the Russian Empire they would remain nationally engaged and socially active. At the same time, there were suggestions in the public discourse of the intelligentsia of that time to boost engagement in the career guidance of young people, taking into account more favourable employment and working conditions in ethnic Lithuania. The representatives of the Lithuanian intelligentsia who wrote for the periodical press encouraged young people to prioritize professional activities in the fields of law and medicine and to actively join the teaching profession. Meanwhile, in ethnic Lithuania, various groups of the Lithuanian professional intelligentsia were organised: the first associations of medical workers and teachers were established and specialized professional publications were launched. It was hoped that the cooperating representatives of the Lithuanian professional intelligentsia would make a cultural, moral, and, perhaps, political impact on the life of Lithuania. In parallel, other measures that could slow down the migration of the Lithuanian intelligentsia were considered in the public discourse of the problems of the intelligentsia: the intellectuals were advised not to give up job opportunities in rural areas. The expectations were that the increase of intellectuals in rural areas would stimulate faster modernization of the Lithuanian village and would encourage it to faster absorb all economic and cultural achievements. However, in the first decades of the twentieth century, the solutions to the problem of the shortage of Lithuanian intelligentsia considered in the public discourse were isolated cases. Also, they were more theoretical in nature than a precisely elaborated programme for strengthening the Lithuanian intelligentsia in ethnic Lithuania. In other words, when assessing the public discourse on the problem of the shortage of Lithuanian intelligentsia, we should first of all talk about the search for ideas and solutions rather than their coordinated implementation. In addition, it should also be noted that in the public discourse of the issues of the intelligentsia, ways to overcome the problem of its shortage were searched and discussed most actively from 1905 to 1907, which, in turn, may have promoted a lift in the general mood of society related to the events of 1905, in the hope of significant changes in the policy of Russian government. However, as the hopes of the Lithuanian society, and more precisely of the Lithuanian intelligentsia, faded (the network of professional schools in ethnic Lithuania remained essentially unchanged, no fundamental shifts took place in the employment of Lithuanians in the civil service), it was concluded that a successful solution to the problem of the shortage of the Lithuanian intelligentsia could only be found after a change of the political situation in the Russian Empire, and at the same time in Lithuania.